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U.S legislature, local government fight back against opioid abuse

The rise of the opioid epidemic across America has sparked Congress and local governments to begin fighting back. 

“They passed two bills that were instrumental in opioid epidemic,” U.S. Congressman Buddy Carter said. 

The 21st Century Cures act was signed into law on December 13, 2016. Designed to help medical product development, new innovations, and advances to patients, the majority of the $6.3 billion in funding went to the National Institutes of Health.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) was signed into law just seven months later by President Barack Obama. The act is a comprehensive effort to address the opioid epidemic. It incorporates prevention, treatment, recovery, law enforcement, criminal justice reform, and overdose reversal to respond to the epidemic.  The act also funds education efforts and enhanced grant programs for opioid and substance use disorders.

The latest support is the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act. The act was introduced into the House of Representatives on Jan. 1, 2017. The bill will address Medicare requirements when addressing opioid use, changes on how Medicaid programs address opioid and substance use disorders, and other opioid related issues.  It includes 58 bills, three of which are Carter’s. 

His three bills include giving pharmacists resources to be aware of fraudulent and forged prescriptions, for physicians to use telemedicine to prescribe different abuse medications without having to see the patient physically, and utilization of abuse deterrent formulations that manufacturers produce so pills can’t be snorted or injected.

“It went over to the Senate and passed, and lawmakers hope to have it on the President’s desk this week,” Carter said.

He describes the opioid epidemic as a twofold problem; the number of pills out there, and the number of prescriptions.

“The 2.1 million people addicted aren’t bad people; they are suffering from a substance abuse disorder which is a disease,” Carter said. “There’s no single answer to this.”

In 2009, the Atlantic Judicial Drug Court was established to reduce criminal related drug offences by providing rehabilitation instead of incarceration in Liberty, Long, Bryan, Evans, Tattnall, and McIntosh counties.

Applicants to the 24-month intensive outpatient program must have a pending felony charge motivated by drugs in one of the counties in the circuit.

“All kinds of drugs are coming through,” Drug Court Administrator Glenda Harriman said. “There are a lot of people who take prescription opioids like oxycontin and hydrocodone, they take it for pain initially and then it gets out of control.”

Harriman explains substance abuse disorders cross racial and socio-economic lines, therefore there’s no typical drug addicted person.

“It can happen to anybody,” Harriman said. “A housewife to the common working man, there is no stereotypical substance abuse addicted person.”

Before an applicant can enter the program the individuals must do a referral and have a criminal background check to see if they are eligible for the program. Factors that can exclude an applicant from the program include pending felony charges in other jurisdictions, being a sex offender and felony firearm charges..

Once applicants clear the eligibility process through the district attorney’s office, they get an alcohol and drug assessment and clinical evaluation. 

“We have had 105 participants graduate the program,” Harriman said. “We’ve had 15 graduations since 2009.”

Harriman said at graduations many participants give speeches that are moving, when they explain they wouldn’t have been able to have their lives or families back without help from the program.

On July 1, 2018, the Atlantic Judicial Circuit introduced Family Treatment Court to both Liberty and Long County.

“At the request of Judge Linnie L. Darden III, was to start this court for his side in juvenile court.” said Harriman. “It was his intent to start this court because he saw a lot of parents losing their children due to their addiction to drugs.”

The 18-month intensive outpatient dependency program looks to ensure the safety of children and reunification of families once the program is completed. 

Veteran’s Treatment Court is also operated by the Atlantic Judicial Circuit. Established in July 2016, the program is only for veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States. The program is 24 months long and is a court supervised program with intensive treatment. 

Three participants will be graduating from the program October 15, in the first Veteran’s Treatment Court graduation.

The big incentive of the programs is if the participant graduates, they can get their charge dismissed whether that is a new charge from violating probation or the pending felony charge, according to Harriman.

“Drug courts save lives, save taxpayer dollars, produce productive citizens, and reunite families,” Harriman said. 

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